Personal Histories Influencing Art – June 2013

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I was in Ohio this past week for a family emergency and while I spent most of my time with family, I did take a few breaks to clear my head. I wound up driving to nowhere in particular, I spent a couple of hours rolling through green landscapes of elms, maples and sycamores; seeing horses and cows and hay bales dotting the hillsides. It all reminded me of my childhood – that time before life really sped up…back when my cousin, who is long-since passed, and I would catch crawfish in the stream and make lanterns out of lightning bugs; when we would see how many of us could pile into the back of a car to go to the drive-in and we’d watch the nightly amusement-park fireworks from the back yard. I remember sitting on the porch to watch the tornadoes go by and going to my brothers’ Friday night football games. I thought of my old tree house and of eating the pork chops, green beans and mashed potatoes that sustained me 40 years back.

During the week I saw two exhibits that reminded me that we are all influenced, not by one artist or one experience, but by the cumulative layers that build to create our personal histories. The first one was Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs, A Fifteen Year Survey at 21c down in Louisville and the second one was  Patti Smith: The Coral Sea at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.

I guess it was because I was in an area that I once called home that I was feeling especially nostalgic, but I really enjoyed Michael Combs’ show. Combs’ exploration of societal norms connects with viewers because it examines those personal memories that we each carry. His story might be exactly the same as yours or mine, but he confronts us to recall those rites of passage that shape our ideas of gender, race and class. 

At the CAC, I checked out Patti Smith’s The Coral Sea. The museum provides a somber setting for this site-specific installation which showcases her reflections on art, on death and rebirth. The centerpiece is a veiled room-within-a-room, resembling the Kaaba; inside the trance-like recording of poetry read by Smith and Kevin Shields set a spiritual tone for the exhibit. The museum’s concrete walls stand as stark backdrops for the hospital beds and silverprints that pay tribute to Robert Mapplethorpe.

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21C is an exciting hotel concept that displays art, not only throughout the hotel and restaurant spaces, but also incorporates gallery space to make each hotel a contemporary art museum. I’ve been to the ones in Louisville and Cincinnati; there is also one in Bentonville, AK that I know I will see eventually. I understand ones in Lexington, KY and Durham, NC are now in the works.

The Contemporary Arts Center is one of the nation’s oldest contemporary art institutions. It is a non-collecting museum devoted to presenting contemporary art from around the world. Coincidentally, 21c (Cincinnati) is located just next door.

Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs

Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs

Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs

Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs

Wild Card: The Art of Michael Combs

21c Louisville

21c Louisville

21c Louisville

21c Louisville

21c Louisville

21c Louisville

Patti Smith at CAC

Patti Smith at CAC

CAC staircase, building by Zaha Hadid

CAC staircase, building by Zaha Hadid

Chuck Close, Kara 2008 at 21c Cincinnati

Chuck Close, Kara(Walker) 2008 at 21c Cincinnati

Vee Speers, From the Birthday Party Series 2007

Vee Speers, From the Birthday Party Series 2007

Vic Muniz, Marlene Dietrich 2005

Vic Muniz, Marlene Dietrich 2005

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Roland Bernier – Lifetime Artist

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“Man is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art.” Friedrich Nietzsche

Who’s to say that a circle is more significant than a square or a triangle…shapes are shapes.  Letters are shapes too – if you can divorce the symbolic connotations from letters grouped together to form words and just begin to admire the individual letters for their shapes, you can begin to understand the world of Roland Bernier.  For Roland, words are compositions of form, worthy of admiration.

There are many text-based artists whose works are really focused on the meaning of words or phrases – I immediately think of Barbara Kruger, Glenn Ligon, and Lawrence Weiner. Not all of Bernier’s work is devoid of reference, but that is not the main focus of his work.

It’s so rare to see anything truly new, but Bernier has been a pioneer; he started working with text-as-form some 50+ years ago. Since then, any number of artists have followed suit – consider Nancy Holt’s photograph “Concrete Poem” and Mel Bochner’s “Blah Blah Blah” paintings and even more recently of Thomas Müller’s ceramic forms in his show “Nothing Rhymes with Orange”, Fionna Banner’s “Concrete Poetry” and Jaume Plensa’s “Figurative Sculptures.”

I have visited Bernier’s studio a number of times to check out his archives (some is missing, but he has inventory dating back to 1965) and have seen eight or so shows at the Denver Art Museum, Spark Gallery and Walker Fine Art; I love his stacked words, the words on wheels, the cross words, his hysterical “What a Dump” series, “Talking in Circles” and his hands series.

My all-time favorite pieces are his more recent signature series.  After seeing some of his other shows, I went to see this body several years ago and initially tried to dismiss them. I found myself going back – the second time I saw his empty frames with nothing more than his signature, I recognized he was onto something. The third time I visited that show I understood: so much of art is about the signature – people rush up to look for the name.

Roland is now in his 80’s and for the past 5-6 years he has been acutely aware of his own mortality. His introspection leads him to explore the merger of art with artist. He now prefers the use of his own name in favor of more randomly selected text, covering literally anything and everything with his signature over and over and over …and over again, the latest pieces only with his last name. He is not morose, “This might be my last show, so I am only using my last name,” Roland says smiling, happy with his clever use of words.

Roland Bernier is represented by Walker Fine Art where “The Last Picture Show” is on view June 7-July 12. www.walkerfineart.com

Roland Bernier, "The Last Picture Show" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier, “The Last Picture Show” at Walker Fine Art

Bernier at Denver Art Museum, 2007

Bernier at Denver Art Museum, 2007

Roland Bernier "Talking in Circles" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier “Talking in Circles” at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier's Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier’s Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier Signature Series at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier, "What  A Dump" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier, “What A Dump” at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier "HI" at Walker Fine Art

Roland Bernier “HI” at Walker Fine Art

Some other artists using text as compositional form:

Nancy Holt Concrete Poem at CAG

Nancy Holt Concrete Poem at CAG

Mel Blochner Blah, Blah, Blah

Mel Bochner Blah, Blah, Blah

thomas-muller-at-project-4

thomas-muller-at-project-4

Fiona Banner at Frith Street Gallery

Fiona Banner at Frith Street Gallery

Some artists using messaging in text-based artwork:

Barbara Kruger at the Hirshhorn

Barbara Kruger at the Hirshhorn

Glenn Ligon at the Whitney

Glenn Ligon at the Whitney

Lawrence Weiner at the Guggenheim

Lawrence Weiner at the Guggenheim

Color/Pattern Studies

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This gallery contains 7 photos.

I am excited to share these two new series I began this the past year. They are hand-painted pyrographs on wood; the images on the longer strips are based on patterns I have created over the past 12 years and … Continue reading